Little Rock to reveal bid for Amazon headquarters | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Little Rock to reveal bid for Amazon headquarters

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2017 at 12:51 PM

click to enlarge amazon.jpg

Thursday is the deadline for cities
to make a pitch for Amazon's second headquarters and Little Rock will unveil its proposal at a 10:30 a.m. news conference Thursday in the Venture Center in the city's Technology Park development on Main Street.

Mayor Mark Stodola and Jay Chesshir, CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which gets $300,000 a year in city tax money to subsidize its employees, will detail the city's proposal. I've made an FOI request for the draft today, but the chamber has traditionally refused to release details of work it does for the city and city officials have endorsed that secrecy.

Some cities are already talking themselves up. Here are some pitches Geek Wire rounded up from Pittsburgh, Toronto, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia, Raleigh and Denver.

The Amazon hunt has prompted what an NPR article linked above describes as "soul-searching" by cities about how much to give away to lure Amazon (or any other business venture.)

"There is a whole system in economic development that has pitted states and cities against each other for corporate relocations. Amazon just happens to be very good at it," says Amy Liu, who runs the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Corporate subsidies, by one conservative estimate, top $70 billion a year. That's what cities and states give away in foregone taxes and other concessions to companies — sometimes for the prospect of new jobs and sometimes just to keep existing ones.

In some cases, all the competition does is get concessions from cities that the company would have picked anyway. Amazon representatives have insisted that the company didn't begin soliciting HQ2 bids with a pre-existing choice.
Most of the analysis of the competition has focused on cities larger than Little Rock. In its initial announcement, Amazon was said to be looking for for a metropolitan area of 1 million people, an international airport, strong mass transit and a workforce of thousands of technology-talented workers. Little Rock doesn't fit that profile, but many have said putting a pitch together is good for a city regardless, both in self-awareness and in shaping a package that could be adapted for others. Abundant evidence of a non-progressive streak in state governance — think human rights, environmental regulation and worker-unfriendly law — also might seem to work against Arkansas as an Amazon choice, but who knows?

The city will be hard-pressed to offer significant cash handouts, I'd think, unless it will offer the promise of the state giveaway program. The city is already maxed out — and the tax base is stagnant — by corporate welfare for the tech park and alsofrom  throwing millions to refurbish the sagging arts center with, as yet, no specific showing of promised matching private funds.

There's a touch of irony in the city coming up with financial lures for Amazon. It follows long complaints from city officials lof how Internet commerce has plundered local retail and the accompanying sales tax base. Amazon, at least, has begun this year making voluntary collections of sales taxes on purchases in Arkansas though it is not required to do so by law because it has no current physical facility in the state. All would be forgiven if HQ2 is built in Little Rock.

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